He was a NASA astronaut for more than 30 years and flew on six spaceflights. He is the only astronaut to have flown on all five space shuttles (Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour and Columbia).
He was a trauma surgeon and parachuting instructor. He has seven graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. And, on top of all that, he has been awarded 20 honorary doctorates.
Gone are the days when online education was limited to a few industries and skill sets. Today, alternative credentialing opens access to a wide range of industries students may have never considered, allowing them to gain the skills needed to find a new or better job.
As digital badging programs become more popular, more accepted, and more diverse employers from many sectors are turning to this technology to fill workforce needs.
When the Chinese invented exams over a thousand years ago, and the British copied them in the nineteenth century to select people for the Civil Service, they were a wonderful innovation. A way to ensure a more meritocratic society, to objectify knowledge and aptitude that as a result of standardisation allowed meritocracy to spread.
Of course they weren't perfect then and they are not perfect today. And, while we can continuously improve them and make them better, they'll never be perfect because they can only ever be a proxy for what people know at a point in time. Assessing everything that someone knows or can do, would take as long as it took to learn it in the first place.
The problem however, is that people too often see exams as more than that; too often they are seen not as one important indicator among many, but as the sum total definition of knowledge and ability, a binary predictor of success or failure in life.
Perhaps that's bound to happen in a more transparent and competitive society. Of more concern however, is when the education establishment itself also begins to define all worthwhile learning only in terms of exam results. That is a far bigger problem, because then the examination tail begins to wag the education dog.
School accountability systems can do a very effective job in holding teachers to account. But they can also distort behaviour in ways that are counter-productive. An accountability system that is too heavily focused on exam results leads to good teaching being defined primarily in terms of those test results; to an ability to teach to the test.
Over the years we've seen a growing tendency in this country to hire and fire teachers and to put school leadership teams under immense pressure on the basis primarily of exam results. This tendency is damaging. It squeezes the creativity and innovation out of teaching and the joy out of learning. It does not help our children acquire all the knowledge they really need.
Of course exams are an important indicator, but the irony is that those confident schools that give them less emphasis often do better in them than less confident schools which focus solely on exam technique. School accountability systems should be developed in ways that take into account the fact that the pressure they exert can have the reverse effect to the one intended.
In the UK, our new Progress Eight measure is a big improvement on what went before. But it should sit alongside a basket of other measures, independent of exam results. That might sound complicated, but that's the whole point; a good education provides a range of outcomes, not just one.
This is what parents want. In a recent Pearson report published with Family Lives, a charity that supports families to improve the outcomes for over 1 million children each year, parents told us clearly that exam results were some way down their list when choosing a school for their child. They were more interested in their personal and social development, including how they'd fare in work and life after school. Parents also showed a clear desire to be updated regularly on their child’s learning and development throughout the academic year, instead of having a single, annual report summarising their child’s progress.
This view is also reflected strongly in the views of British industry. The latest CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey finds that employers are looking for education, above all else, to be a better preparation for the workplace. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise but employers believe, too often the emphasis is placed squarely on academic exam results as the only gauge of education achievement.
The report clearly shows that employers – in this instance over 300 CBI members reflecting an employee base of over 1.2 million – are looking for more rounded individuals with skills such as communication, team-working, grit and leadership. This more balanced approach supports more than just employment; it equips people to succeed socially too.
Students have spoken
Most significantly though, students themselves recognise the need for change. In a Pearson/Teach First survey of students aged 14-21, young people expressed strong opinions about end of year exams not being the best way to assess learning. They felt their future rested arbitrarily on their performance on one given day.
When students talked about what assessment method worked best for them, most said they wanted confirmation they were learning the course material and staying on target. They consistently conveyed the need for regular feedback. There were concerns from some that the exam was more important than the learning; that delivering results counted more to some schools than understanding their personal hopes and ambitions.
Exam boards, government and school leaders have a great opportunity but also a responsibility, to work together to listen to what parents, employers and students tell us and to use these views to support teachers to rise above exam based performance measures, to reject a narrowing of curriculum around exams. We should reflect these views in how teachers are held to account, too. Exams alone are too crude a measure.
Rod Bristow is President of Core Markets for Pearson, including Pearson's UK exam board
A New Conversation with Parents: How can Schools Inform and Listen in a Digital Age: Pearson/Family Lives, 2011
Inspiring Growth: CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015
When we think about big organizations or brands like Coca-Cola, Disney, Chase or Nike, we typically recall a particular product, affiliated celebrity, news story, or experience we’ve had with that company. What we don’t think about – or at least I don’t often think about – are the people who form the backbone of that company.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many people across Pearson. Kendra is a Diversity & Inclusion expert with an adorable yellow lab and supportive husband in Massachusetts. Diane is a Pearson Enrollment Advisor and an unbelievable single-mom who has an impressive knack for editing home videos. And, Tom is a Science Specialist who has appeared on several local-Florida news channels with his son and husband to champion LGBT rights. We are a company of incredibly diverse individuals who are personally connected and dedicated to children and education. Most of us are parents, caregivers, and/or parent advocates.
That’s why we are so excited to launch Pearson’s third global Employee Resource Group (ERG): Pearson Parents! An ERG is an internal, employee-driven interest group that unites us behind shared business and social impact goals. The new Pearson Parents ERG follows on from our Women in Learning and Leadership ERG, and Spectrum, our LGBTQI and Allies ERG. Why, might you ask, is this an important initiative for Pearson?
We believe that parents and caregivers are children’s first and most important teachers. As a learning company, it’s crucial that we empower parents as they navigate their children’s educational journey—this includes supporting the parents and caregivers who work at Pearson.
The Pearson Parents ERG provides us with an internal network to make connections, exchange ideas and learn from one another. We are real people with deep ties to the local communities our families live in. We can discuss which topics are important to people in our networks. We can strategize about how we, as a company, can be more open and transparent about the work we do. And, we can think through what resources or information to provide to the public.
In an increasingly global economy, it is also important that we are sensitive and understanding to the diverse needs of learners. We have colleagues all over the world - 40,000 of us in 70 countries - so sharing our unique cultures and experiences will help to inform the work we do.
Our ultimate goal is to facilitate a meaningful, open dialogue between Pearson and the wider parent community. As the Pearson Parents’ community grows, we will continue to focus on kids and learning, while maintaining our commitment to support and advocate for parents and caregivers, both at Pearson and around the world.
Jenn looks after our parents' community in North America. Connect with her on Twitter: @Jenn_Rosenthal
There’s nothing new in young people and their parents wanting to know what it takes to get ahead after they leave formal education. What are the things they’ll need for that first step on the job ladder, and to keep climbing up; and how and where do you get them? These are the questions that every generation concerns itself with.
Neither is there anything new in employers being clear about the sort of young people they’re looking for - a healthy attitude, great workplace skills, a bit of know-how under your belt - the basic building blocks of career advice haven’t really changed all that much.
But the world is now moving so fast that we cannot rely on the things we’ve always just accepted. The technological revolution has gone far beyond a short, sharp, spike in the timeline of history. It’s a way of life, where the things we don’t know and can’t do today become the everyday occurrences of everyone’s tomorrow. A world where political borders mean less and less, as ideas and people travel ever more freely about. Where barriers to entry tumble, and competition races for the best jobs and the best people. In this 21st century world that values not just what you know, but also what you can do, keeping yourself relevant has never been more challenging.
Against this backdrop we’ve been working with the CBI in the UK to look more closely at what employers there look for in the young people leaving education and heading into the world of work. And we’ve discovered a vivid picture, where a list of exams passed and grades achieved is no longer the only passport to moving on and up. Attitudes and character (85%) now ranks well ahead of qualifications (39%) or academic results (31%) as the most important factors when recruiting.
But it seems that when businesses look to these ‘new’ measures of suitability, they become worried.
The survey of 310 UK companies, which together employ over a million people, reveals that more than half (55%) think they won’t be able to find enough workers with the skills they need; 39% are currently concerned by the attitudes of school and college leavers to work, and 61% are not satisfied by young people’s self-management and resilience.
It is overwhelmingly clear from the research that employers are looking for education to do a better job at preparing young people for the workplace - to turn out better communicators, team-workers, leaders, never-giver-uppers. But there is also concern about getting the basics right too; that there are too many school leavers unable to do the fundamentals of reading, writing and counting well enough. Nor do businesses think that young people have a necessary awareness of the world outside their school gates - half of firms want this as a priority in schools for 14-18 year olds. The upshot is that close to a third (31%) of firms point to having had to organise remedial training in core skills for some school/college leavers.
This is not a lone struggle being fought by businesses. I do not know anyone alive who does not want to see schools everywhere work as well as possible for preparing young people for their futures. In separate research we found that - globally - increasing career skills is the top priority for parents and students, and scored very highly among teachers too.
Nor should people read the survey and jump to some knee-jerk conclusion that UK schools aren’t working. Hundreds of thousands of young people leave schools every year, ready and able to flourish. Happy, too! We need to continue cherishing the things that so many schools and teachers ignite in young people every day, around the world - a natural human curiosity for knowledge, and a love of learning, literature, and the arts.
Rather, the message here is about creating an environment where communication, teamwork, grit, and leadership skills are nurtured throughout education systems. Getting this balance of skills should matter to anyone who is a parent, a teacher, an employer, or just cares about what happens next to our world.
One of my favourite things about my role at Pearson is meeting students who are studying our BTEC qualifications. There is something about the blend of academic and practical skills that gives them something extra. Students like Mohammed. School never really ignited his passions until he took a BTEC in sports science at his local college. In his own words the qualification was about “doing something you’re incredibly passionate about… and being the best person you can be”. Every year thousands of students study BTECs. Through their own dedication, their brilliant teachers, and the involvement of businesses in shaping what they learn and providing work placement opportunities, they’ll succeed. Just like Mohammed, who is now a coach at Chelsea Football Club. Or the quarter of UK university undergraduates who go there brandishing their BTECs. Within a few years that’ll likely be one in three new undergraduates. And from higher education we know they progress into good jobs, because they leave armed with those skills employers need.
The findings of this latest survey are one side of the story here. Equally important is the exercise itself, of trying to align the hopes and needs of business and schools. The evidence seems to say that, for too long now, these two worlds - education and employability - are diverging, if not in aspiration then in the way they see those aspirations being achieved. It’s a relationship that we need to celebrate and encourage to grow; that we need to get running on parallel tracks. But tracks that also criss and cross; where the vocational and the academic blend, and where a multitude of destinations can be reached in a multitude of ways.
Nearly two-thirds of the businesses we surveyed said they would be willing to play a greater role in supporting careers provisions in schools and colleges. That’s a good place to kick on from, together.
In the east end of London, the name of Richard Cloudesley rings loud. By all accounts a man of modest achievement, the school to which he gave his name is anything but. His life is a story that bridges 15th and 16th century England; his legacy is of a place that bridges gaps in the here and now - the gap between a childhood and the fulfilment of potential.
For most people, education is that bridge, yet around the world it’s a crossing that’s denied to too many. Disabled children are too often those who get left behind, a gap made bigger by the perception of inability more than the fact of it. It’s a perception that teachers at Richard Cloudesley School have been mocking for over 100 years. Today, we’re celebrating just one of them.
As I arrive at Richard Cloudesley, I am struck by its open and friendly modernity. The school moved sites a few years ago, to its new home, with space, light and high technology. As the front doors open, motorised wheelchairs and walking aids line the large lobby. I spy a child using an eye gaze keyboard to communicate. There’s something futuristic about this place.
Underneath these visible signs of progress, there's a driving force. Every child here is deeply cared about, but there’s more. Sean, the headteacher, describes it as “making sure nobody falls off the cliff.” He talks about making sure that children who come to schools like Richard Cloudesley - children with significant physical disabilities - have somewhere to progress to after their school years, and are not simply resigned to a life at home or in care.
They’re leaving few stones unturned in that pursuit. The complex needs of their students require a complete view of their welfare. So alongside the teaching staff, the school employs a specialist dietician, a medical team, psychologists, social care workers and counsellors. This is an operation to rival many top flight football clubs.
Sean is clearly very proud of the whole team, but none more than Joanna Ross, who is being presented with a national teaching award. “We’re all very excited, but I think she’ll be embarrassed by it all,” says Sean. Joanna has been with the school since 2004, working with their youngest students, and judging by the turnout of parents and carers, present and past, her award is richly deserved.
I’m ushered into a specially arranged assembly. I look around for my colleague, Dominic, who I arrived with but now seem to have lost. I spot him in the front row, chatting to a young pupil. “This is Faith”, Dominic says, as he introduces her. “She’s been looking after me. She wants us to have the best view.” Faith is small for her 11 years, but there’s no lack of stature.
“Tell him about Mango Man,” Dominic asks her. I lean in to hear, as her voice struggles to keep up with everything she has to say. Mango Man is the superhero comic story she’s been busy writing. Half man, half mango… by all accounts it’s quite a tale. Everyone at the school seems to know about Mango Man… and know about Faith. That evening she’s due to fly to the Ukraine for treatment, a journey she makes several times a year. “I’m scared of flying,” says Dominic. She looks silently straight at him with a crystal-clear incredulity, like he’s just admitted to being scared of fresh air. I can’t imagine anything ever fazes Faith.
“We’re here to celebrate someone very special,” announces Sean as he kicks the assembly into life. “Though, all our teachers are incredible here, aren’t they?” Young hands go up and faces light up. One by one, each student gets to have their say. “They’re kind”; “They give us homework”; “They teach me how to do things”. Sean looks around the room. “Has everyone’s voice been heard?” he asks. Samuel’s has not. So everyone waits. There is no sense that anyone is in a rush. Samuel stares at his carer; “Hugs” comes the translation. I was watching her interaction with Samuel, and I couldn’t see how she worked that out; and then I wondered, just who is the one here lacking in communication skills?
In the preceding weeks, pupils, parents and teachers have been asked why they think Joanna deserves the award, and their thoughts are now presented back to them on a big screen. It’s in keeping with the day, but it’s also an exercise that answers the ‘purposeful writing and shared reading’ requirements of the national curriculum. Education is squeezed into every experience here.
We are asked to read the quotations aloud together. They are brimming with the stuff of role models - ‘amazing’, ‘inspirational’, ‘special’, ‘fun’. But I’m struck by one particular quote: “Every teacher training course needs a Joanna.”
And then it’s Joanna’s turn to speak. “This is really about all of you; and everything I’ve learned about you and from you.” And as if to prove it, she walks around and makes sure all the pupils get their chance to touch the award.
Richard Cloudesley is a shining example of why no child should ever accept a limit. But having the humility to acknowledge your limits is important. At Pearson, we do a lot in education. But we never lose sight of our place. That whatever we do, however well we do it, pales into insignificance against the impact of teachers. That the frontline of education - that place where a teacher and student come together, will always be where the most extraordinary things happen, every day.
The Pearson UK Teaching Awards began in 1999 as a way for anyone to say “thank you” to the teacher who has helped them most. This year they attracted over 7,000 nominations. Learn more at http://www.pearsonteachingawards.com/.